Building good software – Lessons learned. [Pt.2 – Usability]

Usability Testing

1. Skip the opinion – focus on usability.

Question If you’re getting feedback from your users as to what they think about
a feature or product most people will default to being polite, rather than
bluntly answering honestly and risk hurting your feelings.  But it’s not about their opinions – it’s about how simply they can reach their objective.

Therefore, during testing, direct users to perform functions and
elicit feedback on the difficulty of completing the scenarios.  “Add an order.”  “Approve an Invoice.”  “Send an email.”  “Invite a friend.”  This gives the user an objective
function to perform and allows you to assess the friction involved in its

2. Don’t spoon feed users questions while testing.

3495277112_46da1d12f3_m Many people love to follow step-by-step instructions when learning new
things.  When testing
out new features be sure to script out scenarios that don’t specifically match
labels and terminology in your application. 

For example, if you want the user to book a nurse into an open job
order and you have a button labeled “book a nurse” give them less descriptive
terms to complete this task such as – “perform the function of filling a shift,”
“approve a time card,” or “locate a healthcare professional for your assignment.”

3.   If you’re not
prepared to make changes – don’t test features with your users.

I’ve talked to a lot of companies that think beta testing is really
just demoing or “pre-training” their users.  It’s not.  It’s
about showing, studying usability, receiving feedback, making changes and
testing again.  One of the most
critical mistakes that can be made in software development is to release a
feature with the intent of improving it based on user feedback but never following
through with the improvements.  Over time you’ll build up so much technical debt that your application will suffer tremendously, leading to many unhappy users.

4. Don’t take it personally.

3666000322_8840499617_b Your expectations are usually going to be high prior to releasing a
new product or feature.  This is something
you’ve thought of, designed, talked about, studied, built, tested and now
You might find yourself wondering how people aren’t seeing what they are
“supposed to see.” 
Just remember, your
users are seeing it for the first time. 

I remember the first few years I was involved with releasing new
features and products.  I would get really excited and look forward to hearing good feedback.  Over the years I’ve come to learn that
good feedback mostly comes in the form of silence.  Users can be quick to complain and very rarely
compliment.  If they say nothing about
the changes you’ve made you probably did a good job.

Releasing new features or products can be a humbling experience – but
don’t take it personally.  Be
grateful for the feedback that will allow you to make a better product.

5.  It’s always a beta

3648040792_4909afee34_m Create an environment through which your customers can give you feedback.  Make it easy for people to contact you
via email or phone.  There are few
things more annoying than endlessly searching a website for a company’s contact
information or making your way through the maze of numbers to push in order to get
to a human on the phone.

Creating forums, micro-sites or using customer feedback tools is a
great way to allow your clients to give their input and communicate with you
directly so they know they are being heard.  Without such a platform, clients and business partners may
be venting their frustrations about your company elsewhere on the web, in
places you have no control over.


Creating software is a passion of mine and has been an incredible experience over the last 7 years.  I’m sure there are several other tips and things I’ve learned that I may post at a later date, but these are definitely at the top of my list.  If any other readers have additional tips please post them.

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Building good software – Lessons learned. [Pt.2 – Usability]

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